Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees. Founded in 1636, it is also Harvard's oldest school. Instruction of its students is the responsibility of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The name Harvard College dates to 1639. In 1636 the New College, voted into theoretical existence by the General Court of the colony, was founded—without a single building, teacher, or student. In 1639 it was re-named in honor of the deceased John Harvard, a minister from nearby Charlestown, who in his will had bequeathed to it his entire library and a sum of money equal to half his estate. In the understanding of its members at the time, the name "Harvard College" probably referred to the first (as they foresaw it) of a number of colleges which would someday make up a university along the lines of Oxford or Cambridge. The American usage of the word college had not yet developed; to the founders of Harvard, a college was an association of teachers and scholars for education, room, and board. Only a university could examine for and grant degrees; nonetheless, unhampered by this technicality, Harvard graduated its first students in 1642. Twenty-three years later, in 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, "from the Wampanoag...did graduate from Harvard, the first Indian to do so in the colonial period".
Harvard's first "professor" was schoolmaster Nathaniel Eaton, brother to Theophilus Eaton (founder and first Governor of New Haven) and Francis Eaton (of the Mayflower). In 1639 he was ousted by the directors, because of his overly strict discipline of the students.
Town and gown collaborated closely in the first 150 years, evolving through three phases during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During the seventeenth century, Cambridge nurtured the small college. The town helped govern Harvard, maintained order on campus, and provided economic support. The Puritan minister in town provided direct oversight of Harvard and ensured the orthodoxy of the college's leadership. By 1700 Harvard relied less on local leaders to assist in academic governance. Moreover, the college was strong enough to regulate and disciple its own people. Harvard began to participate as the town's partner in the development of the total community. The college assisted in the building of roads, meetinghouses, and schools. Harvard used its financial resources to support townsmen in their attempts at economic expansion. Harvard and Cambridge also worked together to improve the community's public health and educational system.
A crisis erupted when the first president Henry Dunster abandoned Puritanism in favor of the Baptist faith in 1653. He provoked a controversy that extended beyond the town to the entire colony and revealed two distinct approaches to dealing with dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony's Puritan leaders, whose own religion was born of dissent from mainstream Church of England, generally worked for reconciliation with members who questioned matters of Puritan theology but responded much more harshly to outright rejection of Puritanism. Dunster's conflict with the colony's magistrates began when he failed to have his infant son baptized, believing, as a newly converted Baptist, that only adults should be baptized. Efforts to restore Dunster to Puritan orthodoxy failed, and his apostasy proved untenable to colony leaders who had entrusted him, in his job as Harvard's president, to uphold the colony's religious mission. Thus, he represented a threat to the stability of society. Dunster exiled himself in 1654 and moved to nearby Plymouth Colony, where he died in 1658.
Seven alumni were killed in the American Revolution. Loyalists were outnumbered seven to one by patriots among the graduates, and, at the conclusion of the war, found themselves outside of both American and British society, especially lacking business contacts. Patriots, however, were much more mixed in their later careers, with some going on to wealth and others receding into obscurity. John Adams became the second president of the United States.
The takeover of Harvard by the Unitarians in 1805 resulted in the secularization of the American college. By 1850 Harvard was the "Unitarian Vatican." The "liberals" (Unitarians) allied themselves with high Federalists and began to create a set of private societies and institutions meant to shore up their cultural and political authority, a movement that prefigured the emergence of the Boston Brahmin class. On the other hand, the theological conservatives used print media to argue for the maintenance of open debate and democratic governance through a diverse public sphere, seeing the liberals' movement as an attempt to create a cultural oligarchy in opposition to Congregationalist tradition and republican political principles.
Charles William Eliot, president 1869-1909, eliminated the favored position of Christianity from the curriculum while opening it to student self-direction. While Eliot was the most crucial figure in the secularization of American higher education, he was motivated not by a desire to secularize education, but by Transcendentalist Unitarian convictions. Derived from William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson, these convictions were focused on the dignity and worth of human nature, the right and ability of each person to perceive truth, and the indwelling God in each person.
In 1846, the natural history lectures of Louis Agassiz were acclaimed both in New York and on his campus at Harvard College. Agassiz's approach was distinctly idealist and posited Americans' 'participation in the Divine Nature' and the possibility of understanding 'intellectual existences.' Agassiz's perspective on science combined observation with intuition and the assumption that one can grasp the 'divine plan' in all phenomena. When it came to explaining life-forms, Agassiz resorted to matters of shape based on a presumed archetype for his evidence. This dual view of knowledge was in concert with the teachings of Common Sense Realism derived from Scottish philosophers Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart, whose works were part of the Harvard curriculum at the time. The popularity of Agassiz's efforts to 'soar with Plato' probably also derived from other writings to which Harvard students were exposed, including Platonic treatises by Ralph Cudworth, John Norris, and, in a Romantic vein, Samuel Coleridge. The library records at Harvard reveal that the writings of Plato and his early modern and Romantic followers were almost as regularly read during the 19th century as those of the 'official philosophy' of the more empirical and more deistic Scottish school.
Football, originally organized by students as an extracurricular activity, was banned twice by the university for being a brutal and dangerous sport. However, by the 1880s, football became a dominant force at the college as the alumni became more involved in the sport. In 1882, the faculty formed a three-member athletic committee to oversee all intercollegiate athletics, but, due to increasing student and alumni pressure, the committee was expanded in 1885 to include three student and three alumni members. The alumni's role in the rise and commercialization of football, the leading moneymaker for athletics by the 1880s, was evident in the fundraising for the first steel-reinforced concrete stadium. The class of 1879 donated $100,000 - nearly one-third of the cost - to the construction of the 35,000-seat stadium, which was completed in 1903, with the remainder to be collected from future ticket sales.
Critics of intercollegiate athletics, including president Eliot, believed that sports competition had become overcommercialized and took students away from their studies, and they called for reform and limitations on all sports. This opposition prompted Harvard's athletic committee to target 'minor' sports - basketball and hockey - for reform and regulation in order to deflect attention from the major sports - football, baseball, track, and crew. The committee made it difficult for the basketball team to operate by denying financial assistance and limiting the number of overnight away games in which the team could participate. Several losing seasons, negative attitudes toward the commercialization of intercollegiate sports, and the need for reform contributed to basketball's demise at Harvard in 1909.
No further colleges were founded beside it; and as Harvard began to grant higher degrees in the late eighteenth century, people started to call it "Harvard University." "Harvard College" survived, nonetheless; in accordance with the newly-emerging American usage of the words, it was the undergraduate division of the university—which was not a collection of similar colleges, but a collection of unique schools, each teaching a different subject..
Harvard's principal governing board, the oldest continuous corporation in The Americas, still goes by its original name of "The President and Fellows of Harvard College" even though it has charge of the entire university and the "fellows" today are simply external trustees such as those who govern most American educational bodies—not residential educators like the fellows of an Oxbridge college. In current Harvard parlance, this governing board is frequently referred to simply as The Harvard Corporation..
For the class of 2010, the College admitted 2,109 students out of 22,753 applicants for an overall admittance rate of 9.3%. The Class of 2012 admissions pool was 27,278 applicants vying for admission into the pool of roughly 2,100 students, from which 1,948, or 7.1%, ultimately were accepted. The class of 2013 had the lowest admissions rate of any academic institution in the United States at 7%, and highest yield at an estimate 76% before including wait-listed students.
In March 2008, Harvard announced that no transfer applicants would be admitted for the next two academic years in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the undergraduate residential House system. This controversial decision was announced after the academic year 2008-2009 transfer applications had already been submitted. Winthrop House Co-Master Mandana Sassanfar said that the House Masters had been discussing the issue of overcrowding since late 2007 and "decided it was more important to have enough housing for our own students first." This decision was called “rash,“ “outrageous,” and “heartbreaking” by transfer applicants and others at Harvard and elsewhere. In January 2010, the College resumed taking applications for transfer students to arrive in Fall 2010.
Nearly all students at Harvard College live on campus, with first-year students living in dormitories in or near Harvard Yard (see List of Harvard dormitories). Upperclass students live in the Houses, which serve as administrative subdivisions of the College as well as living quarters, and help provide a sense of community in what might otherwise be a socially incohesive and administratively daunting university environment. Each house is presided over by a Master, a senior faculty member responsible for guiding the social life and community of the House, while the Allston Burr Resident Dean supervises the day-to-day academic and disciplinary well-being of students within the house. The Master and A.B.R.D. are assisted by other members of the Senior Common Room—select graduate students, faculty, and University officials brought into association with each house. Associated graduate students are known as Tutors and many are resident within the house itself. (Terms such as Tutor, Senior Common Room and Junior Common Room—the House's undergraduate inmates—reflect the debt to the residential college systems at Oxford and Cambridge.)
The House system was instituted by Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell in the 1930s to combat what he saw as pernicious social stratification engendered by the private, off-campus living arrangements of many Harvard undergraduates at that time; Lowell's solution was to provide on-campus accommodations to every student throughout his entire career in the College. Lowell also saw great benefits flowing from other features of the House system, such as the relaxed and unstructured discussions, academic or otherwise, which he hoped would take place among undergraduates and members of the Senior Common Room (see below) over meals in each house's dining hall.
However, the system has not remained static. In particular, in the way in which students are assigned to Houses, at the end of their first year, has changed dramatically, since Lowell's day, and the very number of houses has increased in order to maintain, as College enrollment has grown, Lowell's vision of housing for all students while the scale of each house relatively small.
(Construction of the first of the River houses was financed by a gift of Yale alumnus Edward Harkness in 1928, though assembly of the land on which they would be built had begun decades before. Edward Waldo Forbes, grandson of Ralph Waldo Emerson, studied two years in England after graduating from Harvard in 1895. Inspired by the Oxford and Cambridge systems, on returning to the U.S. Forbes set out to acquire such land between Harvard Yard and the Charles River as was not already in the hands of university or various associated entities. By 1918 that ambition has been largely fulfilled and the assembled land transferred to Harvard.)
The three Quad Houses (in the Harvard—formerly Radcliffe—Quadrangle) enjoy a residential setting half a mile (800 m) northwest of Harvard Yard. These housed Radcliffe College students until Radcliffe merged its residential system with Harvard. They are:
A thirteenth House, Dudley House, which is nonresidential but fulfills, for some graduate students and the (very few) off-campus undergraduates (including members of the Dudley Co-op), the same administrative and social functions as the residential Houses do for undergraduates who live on campus. It is named after Thomas Dudley, who signed the charter of Harvard College when he was Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Plans have been proposed for expanding the House system using land owned by Harvard in Allston, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from the River Houses. Suggestions include moving the Quadrangle Houses to Allston and building up to eight new Houses there.
For inexplicable reasons Harvard's residential houses are paired with Yale's residential colleges in sister relationships.
Harvard College confers two degrees: Artium Baccalaureus (A.B.) and the Scientium Baccalaureus, (S.B.) (the same conferred by Radcliffe prior to the merger with Harvard). With the creation of the new engineering undergraduate school, a third undergraduate degree is planned.
What most schools call majors Harvard terms fields of concentration, offering 46 as of 2008. Joint concentrations bridging two standard concentrations may be allowed where the student proposes a plan of study which meaningfully combines the two fields; in contrast, secondary fields (known as minors elsewhere) need not be intellectually related to the student's primary field . Special concentrations include the Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, a certification program in Neurosciences run jointly by the departments of Anthropology, Biochemical Sciences, Biology, Computer Science, History of Science, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Psychology. Harvard and the New England Conservatory offer a joint 5-year program leading to a both a Harvard Undergraduate degree and NEC Master of Arts.
In addition to satisfying a field of concentration, and completing a specified total number of courses, undergraduates must also fulfill the Core Curriculum, which requires courses in seven of eleven academic areas (such as "Moral Reasoning" and "Social Analysis") — each student exempt from four of the eleven areas depending on that student's concentration. A replacement plan, General Education allowing broader instruction applies to students matriculating with the Class of 2013 or later. (Strangely, an older plan replaced by the Core in the 1980s was also called General Education.)
Harvard has hundreds of student organizations. Every spring there is an "Arts First week," founded by John Lithgow during which arts and culture organizations show off performances, cook meals, or present other work; in 2005 over 40% of students participated in at least one Arts First event. Notable organizations include the student-run business organization Harvard Student Agencies, the daily newspaper The Harvard Crimson, the humor magazine the Harvard Lampoon, the a cappella groups the Din & Tonics and the Krokodiloes, and the public service umbrella organization the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).
According to the university, Harvard is home to the largest Division I intercollegiate athletics program in the U.S., with 41 varsity teams and over 1,500 student-athletes. Harvard is one of eight members of the Ivy League, along with Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, The University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.
Harvard and Yale enjoy the oldest intercollegiate athletic rivalry in the United States, the Harvard-Yale Regatta, dating back to 1852, when rowing crews from each institution first met on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Harvard won that contest by two boat lengths. Since 1859, the crews have met nearly every year (except during major wars). The race is typically held in early June in New London, Connecticut.
Better known is the annual Harvard-Yale football game, known to insiders of both institutions as simply, "The Game." It was first played in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1875. Harvard won the initial contest 4-0. In recent years, The Game is always played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, making it one of many significant games played on "Rivalry Day."
Harvard and Cornell University also field a rivalry in Men's Ice Hockey.
Performance arts - music, theater and film
For more information, see List of Harvard University people.